A Tribute to Dr Jim Frazier, OAM ACS DSC.hc by Christine Calabria

Updated: Oct 13

✦ James Albert Frazier, our Jim, passed away peacefully after a short illness late in the evening of Saturday September 16, 2022, just short of his 82nd birthday.

Famous world-wide for the invention of the Panavision Frazier lens system, a miracle combination of glass that gave an unlimited depth of field, he single-handedly changed the way we see the world. I am sure that Sir David Attenborough would agree, as well as Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and many more of the world’s best film makers, who have used his lenses.

Jim Frazier, a quiet country boy with a love of beasts and bugs who great up to be a highly respected cinematographer
Jim Frazier: highly respected cinematographer, photographer, environmentalist and innovative inventor

But how did this ‘boy from the bush’, a quiet country boy with a love of beasts and bugs, grow up to be a highly respected cinematographer, photographer, environmentalist, maker of wildlife documentaries and innovative inventor.

Growing up in Armidale in country New South Wales, he attended school for the minimum number of years then trained as a cabinetmaker, following in his dad’s footsteps, leading to a position at the University of New England. This was where, fortuitously, he met Densey Clyne, thus becoming a cinematographer. He first met Densey when he showed her where a threatened species of frog lived in the Armidale area. Sometime after that, he moved with his family to Sydney. Densey assisted in finding them a place to live. This is when Jim’s life changed forever.

In Jim’s words:

“One day, in 1971, while I was visiting Densey at her home in Turramurra, two friends were visiting, who effectively changed the course of our lives. They were Vincent Serventy, who made Australia’s first wildlife television travel documentaries, Shell’s Australia, and Robert Raymond, of Four Corners fame.

"Their mission was to convince Densey to contribute to a planned series of films they were making called The Australian Ark. Vincent and Raymond were particularly interested in Densey’s expertise (regarded as an Australian expert in the field of Entomology) with spiders and insects. While Densey was an exceptional photographer, she argued with the pair that she knew nothing about cinematography and, in any case, the equipment was too heavy for her. At that point, I intervened and said to Densey, “We could have a go together. I can handle the heavy equipment and, anyway, I would love to learn cinematography.”

"Vincent was generous enough to give us a lot of film and an old wind-up Bolex movie camera. I eagerly read and re-read the instruction manual and, with Densey’s help, started to film a few special spiders. In essence, Densey taught me the fine art of photography.”

Three friends enjoying each others company, Densey Clyne, David Attenborough and Jim Frazier
"David cracked a joke!" - Densey Clyne, Sir David Attenborough and Jim

The beginning that started a partnership

That fortuitous encounter was the beginning of the working relationship that launched Mantis Wildlife Films and started a partnership that lasted for twenty-eight years. They made an award-winning film together about spiders, Aliens Among Us, which impressed the BBC and opened doors, particularly to filming for Sir David Attenborough’s three major series – Life on Earth, The Trials of Life and The Living Planet.

When Jim first heard David Attenborough’s name mentioned, his response was, “Who the hell is David Attenborough?”

He soon found out.

Mantis’s contribution to these was considerable. For instance, a thirteenth of the complete production of The Trials of Life was Mantis Wildlife Film’s production. As Mantis Wildlife Films, they travelled the world, filming wildlife documentaries for Sir David Attenborough and many others.